Eastern Mind: The Lost Soul of Tong Nou
Review by Orb
Tong Nou, according to the introduction of this game, is a Far
Eastern island. Per the legend, once a year Tong Nou devours the
soul of humans. Rin, a young man, decides to travel to Tong Nou
to recover his missing soul. He is given a temporary soul for
49 days to use while he gets his own soul back. Is Eastern
Mind the strangest game I have ever played? Absolutely. Was
I mesmerized by its strangeness? You betcha.
The first clue that there is something going on here unlike any
other adventure game you've ever played is the island of Tong
Nou itself. It's actually the head of the game's designer, Osamu
Sato. It's bright green, and the player enters various lands in
the game via the orifices in Sato's noggin. Do I have your attention
Something uncomfortable happened to me while I played this game.
I became obsessed. The graphics, about which I will go into more
detail in a bit, were dated. There were creatures there to interact
with that were in some instances, well, unpleasant, disturbing.
But I found the game worlds surprisingly large, and the depth
of the story, the thing I ultimately became entangled in and addicted
to, was quite good.
In 1993, Osamu Sato was Sony Music Japan's Digital Entertainment
Program's Grand Prix Winner. With this and a handful of other
awards under his belt, he was able to design Eastern Mind,
which was made by a four-person team including Sato and his
wife, and get Sony to publish the game. Originally sold in Japan,
where it did well, it was later published in English. I'm guessing,
based on the degree of unavailability of the game, that however
the English publishing went, it did not last long and was not
overly successful. This game now goes to collectors prowling eBay
for a hundred dollars or more, when it can even be found.
So what exactly is it that these people are paying for? Well,
I'll tell you.
Tong Nou is a classic first-person, point-and-click game. It
does not, despite those points, bear any resemblance to Myst
and can in no way be called a Myst clone. Based on
the year it was developed, I'm guessing that Sato was working
on this pretty close to the same time the Miller brothers were
huffing and puffing away on Myst, so this game cannot easily
be dismissed as something simply done to ride the coattails of
some fat income-generating behemoth.
The game is played from the view of nine different characters,
each of whom travel the same lands, but what the player experiences
in each land as each character is different. Something will be
open to one character that is not open to another. You must play
as each character and accomplish that character's goals to complete
the game. Sometimes the gameplay for a given character is extremely
short; not all of these are the same.
There are five lands to be explored throughout the game, and
these are revisited by each of the nine characters (although some
characters do not need to go to all locations). Now I suspect
that the player is going to come away from this one of two ways.
Probably, in many instances, where the detail of the game gets
to be too much, you may find it repetitive, and understandably
so. But if the story is closely unraveled, and the in-game book
detailing the characters and other information studied, the game
become much more interesting and you'll lose that sensation of
A premise of the game is that the purpose in the end of each
life is to die, and so there is a lot of dying. But it's actually
meant to be part of the gameplay, not a showstopper. Throughout
the game, you come across godlike characters that interact with
you, either to help or hinder your progress. By studying the book
in the game, which includes an encyclopedia of these characters,
you can get an idea of what to expect from a character you run
into and whether or not it is going to be a helpful thing. The
Eastern cultural influence is in evidence here, as the idea that
death is not an ending is most definitely an Eastern-based philosophy.
This really differs from much Western game-making, and it is one
of the things that really makes Eastern Mind stand out.
Inventory is stowed in a little green bag at the bottom right
of the screen called a Furoshiki. The inventory system and usage
is straightforward. Many inventory items can be collected multiple
times and in different locations. Some items perform changes to
or acts on creatures or objects when used. In the game there is
an open market area where items that are commonly collected may
be exchanged for rarer items with greater powers. The game's cursor
changes, but only to directional arrows, otherwise giving no indication
of clickable areas.
There are a few other interesting points about the game. The
music in the game is techno-house, which makes sense as Sato was
at the time a techno-house musician. There is no voice acting
from the characters. There are only sounds, mostly some sing-song
words and sucha really unusual choice. The dialogue is displayed
as text at the bottom of each screen.
Osamu Sato was working on a title called Chuuten after
the publication of Eastern Mind. Apparently a Japanese
version was published, but I have been unable to find out if the
English version was ever released. Maybe it never came to fruition,
which would be a shame.
Developer: Osamu Sato
Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
Release Date: 1995
Four Fat Chicks Links
486 or better
8 MB RAM
2X ROM drive
Windows compatible sound card
DOS 6.0 or higher
Win 3.1 or better
Where to Find It
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